Magellan established friendly relations with the treacherous King of Cebu, Humabon, who professed Christianity in order to win the help of Magellan. The great navigator was induced to undertake an expedition to conquer the neighboring island of Mactan for the Catholic faith and the King of Cebu.
At the muddy island called Mactan, their chieftain, Rajah Cilapulapu (Lapu-lapu) was not as friendly and accommodating. It’s unclear whether Magellan commanded Lapu-lapu to submit to Spanish sovereignty, or whether he became involved in a petty local dispute. Lapu-lapu was the first native leader to resist the attempt of the colonizing invaders to Christianize them. His people rebelled against the Rajah Humabon of Cebu and his foreign guests.
As Magellan waded ashore at Mactan with his 60 armor-clad Spanish men, he was met by Lapu-lapu and 1,000-2,000 defiant natives who defended their island. A fierce and confused battle ensued. During the skirmish, Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521 during the Battle of Mactan, driving the Spanish explorers away, only six weeks after saying his first mass on Philippine soil. Pigafetta, the expedition’s chronicler, wrote, “They killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide.”
The King of Cebu afterwards got into his power several of the explorer’s most prominent men. Later, realizing that the visitors weren’t invincible, and angry over the repeated violation of their women, the disenchanted Humabon, and his men killed another 27 Spaniards in a skirmish.
The survivors, greatly reduced in numbers, departed hastily. They burned one of the three remaining vessels off Bohol for lack of crew and the remaining crew and two vessels made for Tidore in the Moluccas or Spice Islands. They loaded up with spices. One set sailed for Panama but after becoming leaky had to be abandoned. The other sailed for Spain.
Victoria, the last remaining vessel, laden with spices, at last rounded the Cape of Good Hope and in melancholy triumph dropped anchor in the harbor of Seville, Sept. 9, 1522. She was the first ship to circumnavigate the globe but so too had the dead commander, for on a previous expedition he had gone eastward to 130 degrees, and when he fell he was in 124 degrees west longitude.
In the history of discovery no name ranks higher than that of Magellan. He had done what Columbus set out to do – he had sailed westward to the Spice Islands, giving practical proof that the earth is round, and that it is possible to reach the east by sailing west.
The expedition had lasted nearly three years. Of the original 264 members, only 18 were left. But the sale of the single cargo of spices more than covered the entire cost of the venture. The Victoria’s return vindicated Magellan’s theory and whetted Spain’s appetite for spices and colonies in the Orient.
Four more expeditions were dispatched between 1525 and 1542, two of which touched Mindanao without impact. Villalobos, the commander of the fourth party, named Samar and Leyte “Islas Filipinas” in honor of Charles’ son, who became King Felipe II in 1556. The name was subsequently extended to the whole archipelago.
Magellan opened the Pacific Ocean to the civilized world. Due to his dauntless spirit all through the voyage, he discovered the Strait of Magellan, and he was not only the first European navigator to sail across the Pacific Ocean, but the first person also to discover a route over which ships could sail a complete circle around the world.
John Fiske, the American historian, says: “The voyage thus ended was doubtless the greatest feat of navigation that has ever been performed, and nothing can be imagined that would surpass it except a journey to some other planet.”
Inside Guide Philippines by Discovery Channel
Philippine Handbook by Carl Parkes
Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia
Until next time. The Philippine story continues.